AdStand: Government as Advertiser

India’s largest advertiser is not any brand or organization, it is the Government of India, and if you add all the state Governments to it, the sheer volume of advertising will be staggering. I am not adding the campaigns that the Government does for tourism or vaccination or cleanliness or any such cause or business. The communication that Governments do for themselves is phenomenal and keeps scores of agencies busy all round the clock.

Despite popular perceptions and some ordinary creative quality Governments are skilled advertisers. They have a clear idea of what they want to communicate and to who they want to connect with. They craft the message with a good sense of audience, their receptivity and political leanings.

Advertising by definition has to connect with the core audience and say one thing. Both these rules are not applicable to Government. They are not selling a product or a service. Government is not selling anything, they are showcasing their ability, their acumen, their achievements. They have to showcase a lot, create a positive influence and make the audience feel everyday that their choice was the correct choice and they should exercise the same choice in next elections. All this without showing the party symbols. Being everything to everybody is not easy. Being an all pervasive campaign is not easy. Being able to have multiple subjects where the citizens find what appeals to them by themselves is not easy. The Government ads have a different challenge.

The current regime in the center has elevated the art of Sarkari advertising to a new level. They haven’t done this by improving the quality or by better art direction or by better copywriting. None of that has changed in the ads. The ads remain plain and information driven.

What they have done is better segmentation. Each subject the Government wants to convey is a campaign. Each subject has its own slogan. Each campaign has the PM posing in the right context. Each campaign also has its hashtag, presumably for digital conversation.

Take the three years of NDA campaign that is going on currently. From GST to Skill India to Swach Bharat, the campaign has many subjects. All the campaigns have been unified using one slogan: Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. This has been the Governments continuing slogan from the campaign which transitioned from the BJP election campaign.

What the Government has done is understood the Indian mindset. The success of brands in India is built on Sachets, every brand that sells a large pack uses Sachet to drive penetration. This is the Government that has driven the messaging in the same way. If you happen to catch a flight from a smaller airport in India (managed by AAAI) you will see boards proclaiming how the Government has ensured that fares have fallen in last 3 years. This has not been done by any Government ever.

For me, as a communication professional, there are many lessons that Government campaigns do teach me.

Originally published here:


AdStand: The Head of State as Brand Endorsers and why is it bad for India

August – September 2016 will be remembered as landmark year for brands in India. Two brands in space of less then 10 days managed to get the President and the Prime Minister of India as quasi brand endorsers. Something that had never happened in India, something that the brands may have debated but never dared to pull it off.

Bandhan Bank

On August 23, 2016, Bandhan Bank released an ad claiming that “The First Citizen of India will celebrate our first anniversary” along with the picture of President of India. For the newest bank of India, this seemed like terrific way to get into limelight. The President of India did address the first year anniversary celebrations of India’s newest bank in Kolkata.

Was the bank correct in using the Picture of President? For the core audience of Bandhan Bank, it could almost mean that they see the bank as Sarkari bank.

Then on September 1, 2016, Reliance Jio launched its nationwide 4G services with the picture of Prime Minister of India splashed across all the major newspapers of India. In a poorly crafted ad, with copy error, the country welcomed not only a new telecom service, but also possibly a new brand endorser. The PM was cleverly dressed in the same colours as brand logo.

Now that two brands have found a way, are more coming?


The use of President and Prime Minister for commercial purposes is generally not allowed. The Emblems And Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950 has specific guidelines that makes it almost impossible for private citizens and brands to use the two names for commercial purpose. However if the two brands have found a way of using them for commercial purpose are more brands queuing up to use them? A builder in Mumbai did use PM’s picture to launch housing scheme quoting PM’s Jan Awas Yojna, but had to pull the ad down, as he hadn’t taken permissions from PMO. While it doesn’t look like free for all, but there are chances that we may see more brands using the PM as brand endorser.


Is Government underplaying its own companies?

Both Bandhan and Jio are not owned by the Government of India. GOI owns multiple banks and also owns BSNL, India’s premier telephone company. By endorsing the private sector companies GOI, may be putting its own companies in a hard place. BSNL did respond to the launch of Jio swiftly, and what would have happened if the BSNL ads too had the picture of PM, or the Minister of Telecommunications?

Communication is a lot about symbols and the prime positions of the Government offices are extremely important symbols. By letting the competitors to use the symbols of governance, the Government is weakening its own self.

Despite all the weakness that comes from being Government owned, there are two strengths that come from being Sarkari: Trust and Honesty. These are two very difficult traits to build for a new brand. Has the Government made it easy for the two brands to build the two traits?


Why its bad for us, we the people

We, the citizens of India elect our representatives to be our voice in the parliament and do the right thing for us. By becoming endorsers of brands and business, the elected representatives are breaking the bond between them and their voters. Tomorrow, will the ordinary citizen of India believe that he/she is the king and the brand will listen to them and resolve the issue?

Will the poor performance of the brand not effect the standing of the endorser? Will a PM weakened by the brand he endorsed be a good thing for the nation?


These are new territories

I had never thought that there will be a day when a private sector company will us the PM or President as the endorser. I always believed that the Government run brands are hampered by their desire to use the picture of ruling class.

The tables have turned. The private sector brands are seeking the ruling class; the Sarkari brands are carving their way without the benefit of using PMs pictures.

There is no telling how the new reality will be? One thing though is sure, lot many more brands will line up at PMO seeking permission.

Hope the PMO is working towards launching an App for this. Get automatic approval and launch the campaign.

Original published here: